James Forsyth

What’s next? | 3 May 2008

What's next? | 3 May 2008
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The calls for Labour to get rid of Gordon Brown come from both the left (Martin Kettle) and the right (Matthew Parris) in this morning’s newspapers. It still seems almost impossible that this will happen but Brown will have a hideous next few days, coming under attack from both sides of the party. 

What will worry Labour MPs most is what the numbers from these elections mean for the next general election. When even as sober an analyst as Peter Riddell describes the results as “unreservedly poor” and a sign that Labour has, fatally, lost its political authority then there is a real problem. 

Perhaps, the most damming part of Kettle’s column for Brown is when he maps this week’s results onto Westminster constituencies.

“Almost 40% of Labour's vote has ebbed away since 2005. Take, for instance, what has happened in Southampton. The Conservatives didn't just win the local council there this week. They also hoisted their share of the vote to levels that place both the city's Labour MPs - including the universities secretary John Denham - on clear notice of losing their seats. Three years ago, Denham had a 21-point majority over the Tories in Southampton Itchen; it made Itchen Labour's 189th most marginal seat. Yet this week the Tories stacked up a 20-point lead over Labour among the selfsame voters.

You think this is just an extreme case of Labour's famed southern discomfort? Think again. This is a nationwide phenomenon. Look at Bury in the north-west. In the general election of 2005, Labour's Ivan Lewis, the junior health minister, did a Denham. With 51% of the vote, Lewis was nearly 23 points ahead of the Tories, making Bury South Labour's 204th most marginal seat. On Thursday, Labour slumped to 31.7% there, more than seven points adrift of the Conservatives. Lewis, like Denham, now faces defeat.”  The key question is what do the survival instincts of Labour MPs tell them to do? On the one hand, the electorate hates and punishes divided parties. However, continuing as things are is a recipe for certain disaster. 

Written byJames Forsyth

James Forsyth is Political Editor of the Spectator. He is also a columnist in The Sun.

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